Whatever Happened to Singing in Church? Part 3: Environmental Factors
This is the third post in a 5-part series examining the important but rarely-discussed question of why people don’t sing as much in church anymore. You can check out the previous posts below.
In the first and second posts, I shared why singing is an important part of our faith, as well as three cultural factors that have impacted singing.
This post will look at factors in the worship environment that can make it harder for people to engage. I’ll also share my thoughts on how to address these factors.
1. The sound or visuals might be detracting from the worship experience.
One reason why people may not be participating is poor sound quality. This can involve a variety of issues including bad mixing, volume that is too high, poor speaker placement and other issues with acoustics, or distracting technical mistakes.
I have complete sympathy for sound engineers because it is a demanding and thankless job. I have been on the receiving end or irritable glances and frowns when I have made technical mistakes in a worship service!
A related issue might be worship lyrics that are hard to read, too small, or not timed with the music well. Again, I sympathize with people running visuals because it’s harder than most people realize. But the fact remains that issues in sound or visuals can be a big distraction that hinders people potential factor in people’s lack of participation.
What you can do about it:
Invest in training and good, reliable equipment. Get professional help in optimizing the sound in your worship space. Treat your tech staff and volunteers like kings and queens because they have a tough job. Remember that they can make to break the worship experience.
I have pause here and give a shout-out to the tech staff and volunteers at my church. They do a stellar job with every aspect of lighting, sound, and media. On more than one occasion, I have told someone after a worship service that the sound mix and volume were perfect.
There are a variety of resources available on the technical aspects of worship. Two books that I have found helpful are The Ultimate Church Sound Operator’s Handbook by Bill Gibson and Sound, Lighting & Video: A Resource for Worship by Brad Herring.
2. Worship spaces resemble a concert atmosphere.
Concerts are events where we go to watch people perform. There is a stage, lots of lighting focused on the person up front, screens that magnify the performer, hi-tech sound systems, and a band with talented musicians.
Most churches feature a very similar setup. So we shouldn’t be surprised when, to a certain degree, people respond in worship services the same way they respond at a concert. It’s primarily a passive activity where you watch the performers on stage. It’s how we are wired to respond in western culture, where we are driven by performance and media.
Sometimes you will hear people say, “The worship service was like a concert,” and they mean it in a negative way. But truthfully, the technology, arrangement of seating, and the overall environment of a typical evangelical church is very much like a concert setup. It is hard to overcome our conditioning that has taught us to watch rather than participate.
What you can do about it:
It’s not complicated to address this issue. We have to keep the focus on God and encourage people to participate. Every church will do this in its own way and in its own style.
Every church sees itself as normative. If another church uses more lighting and media than ours, we think of it as too elaborate and materialistic. If a church uses less than we do, we think they are behind the times. It’s all relative.
It’s hard not to compare churches, but we all know it never results in any good. The best thing we can do is focus on doing ministry is our own context, and make sure we are using our technology, media, and other resources to truly point people to Christ.
I’m sure you’re getting tired of me saying this, but I’m going to pause once again and say that my church does an outstanding job in this area. We use all sorts of media, lighting, and sound, and we have very high production values. However, it is always understated, never intrusive, and is clearly designed to be an enhancement rather than the main focus.
Focus on what you can change
It might be a little discouraging to consider these environmental factors in worship, and how they can negatively impact participation. They key is to realize what you can change, and what you can’t change.
For instance, you probably can’t change the setup of your worship space. But you can definitely work to improve the technical aspects such as sound and media. You don’t have to change everything at once. Focus on continual improvement by setting realistic, measurable goals. This is the way to create real, lasting change that will make a difference.
In the next post, we’ll look at several factors in the realm of leadership that can impact singing and participation. I’ll also describe some ways to handle these situations in a way that honors people and helps your ministry move forward.
Let me hear from you. Do you think these environmental factors are significant? Are there some I have missed?